Children's Liturgy of the Word

The Directory for Masses with Children states: Sometimes…, if the place itself and the nature of the community permit, it will be appropriate to celebrate the liturgy of the word, including a homily, with the children in a separate, but not too distant, room. Then, before the eucharistic liturgy begins, the children are led to the place where the adults have meanwhile celebrated their own liturgy of the word. (n. 17)
Many parishes do just this and have what is called a “Children’s Liturgy of the Word” whereby the children leave the assembly after the opening prayer and gather elsewhere to celebrate a liturgy of the word that is more appropriate to their age level.
While this practice has been embraced with enthusiasm by some, others have expressed serious reservations. This is because two different principles come into play here.
On the one hand, we need to heed the warning given in the Directory for Masses with Children that spiritual harm may be done “if over the years children repeatedly experience in the Church things that are scarcely comprehensible to them” (DMC 2).
However, children do not, and do not need to, understand everything going on around them. In fact they are often fascinated by adult conversation and activity that is beyond their comprehension. Growing-up is a gradual process of growing in understanding of the world around them.
In addition, it is essential to embody the unity of a church which includes children as well as adults and to lead children to an adult participation in the parish Sunday Mass.
Notice the first word of the paragraph quoted at the beginning – “sometimes”. A Children’s Liturgy of the Word should not be offered every week so that children can still regularly experience celebrating all of Mass with the entire community.
When it comes to Children’s Liturgy of the Word, one central principle must never be forgotten – it is liturgy, real liturgy, and not catechesis or child-minding. Its purpose is not to give the children colouring-in-type activities to keep them busy so the adults can listen to the homily in peace!
The children do what the rest of the community does. They hear the scriptures proclaimed and applied to contemporary life and respond in various ways. It is an experience of prayer, of dialogue with God.
The approved book of readings is the Lectionary for Masses with Children. Its simplified language does not talk down to children but places unfamiliar words and expressions in a context which helps them understand their meaning.
As far as possible the readings follow those in the Roman Lectionary for Mass. Where a reading was considered too difficult for children, it has been simplified or omitted completely. The responsorial psalms have been adapted to make them easier for the children to sing.
A liturgy of the word is never simply a verbal experience. The use of colour, light, gesture, movement and singing heightens the children’s experience of the transcendent. A beautifully bound book which is handled with respect, a special place for enthroning the word, gathering the children around to hear the scriptures proclaimed well, these all speak to the children of the sacredness of God’s word and influence how they accept and live by it.

Elizabeth Harrington